Latest release: Sorceress (Moderbolaget)Website: www.opeth.com

Fredrik Åkesson is still very much in awe that his band are about to be playing at one of the world’s most revered music venues. On their current Australian tour, which kicks off today in Brisbane, Opeth are performing their Deliverance and Damnation showcase at the Sydney Opera House.

“It’s probably the most iconic venue that we will have ever played, and we’ve played a few interesting venues in the past,” the guitarist says with some reverence. Even the idea that rock bands would be given the opportunity to appear there seemed impossible to him before now. “I have seen bands playing there on videos, but they were playing outside. I’ve never been inside it, I’ve only been outside. Last time we were there, we went down and had a walk about. It’s a rare thing and I understand that no prog metal band has played there before. We talked about it last time we were down with our promoter in Australia, but we couldn’t get it so we’re very thankful to our promoters down in Australia that now we can do it.”

Tickets for the event, part of an exclusive suite of performances conceived to celebrate the re-issue of Deliverence and Damnation as a double album last year, sold out almost immediately. Further seats were eventually released so that Opeth will be essentially playing in-the-round, a rare type of show in itself.

“We’re really amazed by the support from the fans and the audience is going to be all around the stage now,” Åkesson says. “It’s going to be a special night and we’re going to do our best to play a special set list, so it’s going to be two hours and forty minutes of a special set list of the songs from Deliverance and Damnation as well as a compilation of older stuff.”

Opeth previously performed the albums side-by-side at Wembley Stadium and New York’s Radio City Music Hall and Monday night’s date will conceivably be the final time fans get to see it. For the rest of the tour, the band will be “focusing on the latest album Sorceress,” according to Åkesson, with plenty of favourites also in circulation.

We will play two, maybe three songs from Sorceress and we’re still going to do long shows, probably two hours. It’s gonna be a treat,” Åkesson promises. “We will try to pick a song from each album, but there’s not enough time to play songs from every album. Some of the songs are favourites, like ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Demon of the Fall’, songs like that are kind of like our ‘Smoke on the Water’. We need to play them! ‘The Drapery Falls’ is one of those songs they everyone wants to hear, but there are other songs from that album that we want to play. I think we played ‘Blackwater Park’ last time, so we’ll try to change it up and play something different next time. ‘The Drapery Falls’ is one of those familiar songs that the people like to hear.”

With their songs averaging eight or nine minutes in length, it’s difficult, as Åkesson points out, to fit too many into a live set without stretching the patience of even the most devoted audience. Their Blackwater Park performance on April 5, 2010 that became the In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall DVD ran for more than three hours, and only features sixteen songs. Regardless of which tracks Opeth will unearth for a tour, there are always always fielding requests from the fans for others anyway.

Someone at every show will ask for ‘Black Rose Immortal’,” the guitarist says, “which is 22 minutes long. That’s the reason we haven’t play it much! We played a little snippet of it on the last tour. It kind of wasn’t planned but the audience asked for it in some places so it became a little fun thing to do. That’s one song we get asked for often.”

By contrast, the songs on Sorceress are shorter overall than on the bulk of Opeth’s albums outside of Heritage and Damnation, and while it clings to both the metal and modern prog aesthetics of earlier releases, the grip is tenuous as the group broaden their musical palette with textures they haven’t utilised before.

“What was important on this album, and on all the albums actually, but particularly on this one, was for all the songs to be very different from each other,” Åkesson explains. “The song ‘Chrysalis’ is a shuffle song, we’ve never had a shuffle song before, so it sounds fresh for us. ‘The Seventh Sojourn’ was a very different thing for us. It’s kind of in two halves. The second part actually has some vocals, but they’re very different. The first part is Eastern-sounding, the second part is very like [being in] a forest up north. It was very much a different sort of song to play and we enjoyed playing it.”

“The songs that are on it are quite melodic,” he continues. “It’s still complex in many ways, but the melodies are really strong in a song like ‘Era’. Sorceress is quite different from being an Opeth-type record. There are prog elements in the beginning and the end, but other songs are straight ahead kind of rocking, heavy rock. This is the heaviest of our latest albums, but it’s still prog rock. We wanted to go for a bit more meatier drum sound and meatier guitars… bigger drums this time around.”

Audiences have also remarked on the warmly organic feel of the album, an increasingly rare characteristic in modern music with the over-reliance on digital technology. As devotees of traditional progressive rock, Fredrik Åkesson points out that they achieved exactly what they were aiming for. He also keenly notes that the recording we all got to hear is precisely the way they laid it all down in the studio too.

That’s what we were trying to achieve, very warm guitar tones. Recording at Rockfield Studios with Tom Dalgety, he knows that room very well with an old console from the 70s getting that warm, organic sound, instead of using some modern stuff. Even though we recorded it digitally, we didn’t record it on a tape machine, going through an old console and using old cabinets and a proper Mellotron organ and stuff like that and we don’t do any sound replacement and we don’t like to do any edit, so there was no editing at all, just the natural take.”